This year, at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a whole host of computer companies are announcing their new lines of thick, brawny, gaming laptops. Last year both Nvidia and AMD announced a fancy new graphics card and CPU tech (respectively) and it only makes sense for both to show up in a fleet of new laptops at CES. The surprise? Some of these machines are weird. In a good way!
For one, there’s Acer’s Predator Triton 900, with an uncommon convertible design that was teased earlier in 2018but arrived in earnest (with a spec sheet and sky-high price tag) at CES 2019. Using a screen that spins freely between two horizontal attachment points instead of a traditional hinge, it can be positioned in a handful of novel ways. You can change the angle of the screen without tipping that screen further away from your face, for instance, or fold it down into something of a chunky tablet.
There’s also the ROG Mothership from Asus, which takes the form of an enormous, ten-pound slab of screen with a kickstand so it can stand upright—potentially behind whatever gaming keyboard you might already own and love instead of the keyboard it comes with.
Neither of these designs is particularly new. In fact, the trend is something of a throwback to the wave of “convertible” laptops designed to show off Window 8’s touchscreen functionality a few years back. The Triton 900 is more or less a retread of the Dell XPS 12, while the Mothership is basically a gaming version of a Microsoft Surface Pro (the big, chunky, first-generation one).
None of these hyped designs ever replaced the honest-to-god laptop, of course. But it’s exciting to see them crop up again in gaming PCs for a few reasons.
First of all, gaming laptops have a tradition of looking goofy as all get-out for a mix of good and bad reasons. To a certain degree, gaming laptops are chunky and angular because they need to be. Unlike iPhones or slimmer ultrabooks, gaming laptops have big guts that run hot and need to be air-cooled, so they need to be thick and they need to have big macho-looking air vents. Maybe that’s what led designers to lean into the look, for better and for worse. Strange lines, gaudy logos, neon lighting—you know the stuff.
That unpolished aesthetic makes gaming laptops perfect for zany convertible designs. Yes, there are gaming laptops that skew toward more professional designs, like Razer’s Blade, which also got an update at this year’s CES, but those will never give you the same sort of horsepower for your money because of the inherent compromise of their designs. If you’re never going to whip out your ten-pound beast of a black-and-neon chunker at a business meeting, then why hold any amount of weirdness back?
More importantly, the advantages of these convertible designs can be much more appealing in a gaming rig than they are in the replacement for a typical laptop. A computer with a kickstand or that wants to bend over backwards is a liability if you’re trying to use it on your lap on a train.
But gaming laptops aren’t generally used as laptops. Their high-powered guts guzzle battery and you don’t really need to play PC games on the subway anyway. Instead, a gaming PC is more like a desktop you can fit in a backpack in a pinch, a hulking beast that you’re happy to be able to haul from room to room in your house, or from the office to the apartment. In these scenarios, their convertible superpowers are more useful and less annoying. Re-angling the Triton’s screen to avoid a glare or being able to use the Mothership easily with the keyboard already on your desk are pretty significant bonuses in addition to their portability.
Gaming laptops, and especially these, fill a very specific and expensive niche. The Triton 900 starts at $4,000, and the Mothership’s price is TBA but definitely won’t be cheap. The fact remains that a gaming desktop will pretty much always be more cost effective than its laptop twin (especially if you build the desktop yourself) and these gadgets are only likely to make the premium for mobility higher, not lower. But if you do need that mobility—and can afford it—these wacky designs are actually kind of compelling.
Of course with the prices as high as they are, maybe wait for a few reviews before you buy one.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics